MUNICIPAL COMPOSTING: Each autumn the residents of Fergus Falls, Minnesota (population 18,800) are encouraged to rake up their leaves and deposit them alongside their curbs, where a city-owned vacuum picks the foliage up. The town then places all of the tree sheddings on city property, in one gigantic compost pile. In the spring, townspeople stop by and reclaim their fall gleanings in the form of ready-to-use garden compost.
ECOLOGICAL INVENTORY: Help for environmental groups and other organizations concerned about burgeoning development and energy projects in ecologically delicate coastal zones, is available in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's "Atlantic Coast Ecological Inventory." A similar comprehensive survey—and series of fish and wildlife species maps—is being compiled for the Pacific Coast.
CHLORINE CANCER RISK? The U.S. Council on Environmental Quality has issued a study stating that chlorine—which is added to municipal water supplies to kill bacteria—may cause lower gastrointestinal cancer in humans. The chlorine reacts with organic substances in water to form compounds called trihalomethanes, one of which—chloroform—has been shown to be a carcinogen in research with laboratory animals.
LOGS, CHINKING, AND PCP: Residents of several log homes in Kentucky have been found to have elevated levels of the chemical pentachlorophenol (a substance suspected of being harmful to the reproductive systems of some animals) in their blood and urinary systems. The Center for Disease Control said that the timbers used in construction of the houses were dipped in a 50% solution of PCP to control sap stains on the wood.
STERILIZATION LAWSUIT: Five female employees of American Cyanamid in Willow Island, West Virginia—who were sterilized to conform to a company policy requiring women working in the now-defunct lead pigment section of the plant to present proof of nonfertility—have been transferred to other departments, with loss of seniority and reduced pay. The women, who would not have had to be sterilized to work in their new jobs, are being represented by the ACLU in a suit against the company.
GOOD NEWS (AT LAST!) ABOUT PCB'S has been released by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Goodyear scientists claim to have found a quick, inexpensive way to convert polychlorinated biphenyls (toxic carcinogens) into harmless sludge. The company plans to share the process—at no charge—with others. It's thought that the method may also be useful in detoxifying hazardous materials chemically related to PCB's, such as DDT and other insecticides and herbicides.
THE DROOL DISCOVERY: Epidermal Growth Factor—a hormonelike, cellular, growth-regulating protein found in the salivary glands of mammals—significantly increases the shoot growth of sorghum grass. In tests, seedlings treated with EGF grew 18% more in three days than did untreated shoots. Researchers speculate that grazing animals may directly stimulate pasture growth with their saliva!
RETURN TO WALDEN: A kit based on Henry David Thoreau's log cabin on the banks of Walden Pond offers construction drawings and a wooden frame (for about $4,000) to do-it-yourself builders. The package was developed by the Lincoln, Massachusetts archaeologist who discovered Thoreau's home site some 34 years ago. And inflation has certainly taken its toll: Thoreau's original 10' X 18' dwelling cost—in 1848—"28 dollars and 12 1/2 cents" to build.
CREATURES FROM THE DEEP: Undersea geysers—surrounded by snakelike worms—have been discovered in the Gulf of California. Although similar marine life was found around two hot-water vents off Mexico and Ecuador in 1976, this is the first report of the creatures in a semi-enclosed gulf basin rather than in the open sea.
IT'S NOT NICE TO FOOL MOTHER NATURE: The University of Washington's Big Beef Creek fisheries facility is clothing chum salmon in body stockings in order to investigate the relative importance of coloration during spawning. Salmon change hues just before spawning (red is the most popular color). Researchers—who are painting the fish "socks" to approximate the appearance of other piscine species—are curious to see whether the salmon can be fooled into violating a biological taboo against interspecies breeding.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has decided that adobe, a substance that has seen approximately 7,000 YEARS OF WORLD USE AS A BUILDING MATERIAL, does not meet the department's criteria for energy efficiency .... USDA nutritionists say that THE ADDITION OF VITAMIN C TO THE STARTER DIET OF PIGS weaned at four weeks improves the animals' growth .... Some apple farmers are using a HORMONE SPRAY CALLED PROMALIN to produce elongated, knobby-ended Red Delicious apples. The acidic "stretcher" makes East Coast fruit resemble the more commercially successful product of Washington state orchards .... The Ezra Taft Benson institute, which is affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has published A BOOKLET ON SURVIVAL FOOD STORAGE .... The Federal Trade Commission has defined "natural" as a term applying to FOODS THAT DO NOT CONTAIN SYNTHETIC OR ARTIFICIAL INGREDIENTS and which have been "minimally processed" in a manner not far different from what a consumer would do in his or her own kitchen.